restricted access Six: Christianization
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SIX CHRISTIANIZATION I N THIS PART of the book I attempt to describe some aspects of the novel and distinctive Jewish culture that emerged in late antiquity (c. 350–640) as the integrative ideology of the Jews. In this chapter I will argue that one of the main causes of the rejudaization of the Jews was the christianization of the Roman Empire. This process (and it must be emphasized that christianization was a process, not a moment, which cannot be regarded as in any sense complete before the reign of Justinian [527–565], if then)1 affected the Jews in two ways. First, it tended to marginalize them. As religion assumed ever more importance in social relations in late antiquity, Jews were gradually excluded from the networks of patronage that held the empire together.2 The Jews had two possible ways of responding: continued integration at the cost of conversion to Christianity or continued adherence to Judaism (its component communities increasingly inward turning and possessing their own discrete social structures) at the cost of withdrawal. Second, christianization, and what is in social-historical terms its sibling, the emergence of religion as a discrete category of human experience—religion ’s disembedding—had a direct impact on the Jewish culture of late antiquity because the Jewish communities appropriated much from the Christian society around them. That is, quite a lot of the distinctive Jewish culture was, to be vulgar about it, repackaged Christianity. Much more importantly, the dominant forms of Jewish social organization and patterns of expenditure in late antiquity, the local community and the synagogue (its chief material manifestation ), were constituted by appropriative participation by Jews in the common late antique culture. This point will be argued in detail later in this section. Before proceeding with these arguments, I will pause very briefly to consider in a bit more detail what it is I am trying to explain. The remains of northern Palestine in late antiquity are very different from those of the second and third centuries. Most prominent among the late antique remains are syna1 See, e.g., Averil Cameron, The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity, AD 395–600 (London : Routledge, 1993), pp. 57–80; P. R. L. Brown, The World of Late Antiquity (London: Thames & Hudson, 1971), passim. This point requires special emphasis as a corrective to much of Jacob Neusner’s work on the Palestinian Talmud and the midreshei aggadah—to take just one example, Judaism in Society. 2 For this sense of marginalization, see the fundamentally important first chapter of A. Avidov, “Processes of Marginalisation in the Roman Empire” (Ph.D. diss., Cambridge University, 1995). 180 C H A P T E R S I X gogues, which, we may infer, were found in all but the very smallest settlements . The rise of the synagogue will be discussed in detail below; for now we may observe two of its chief implications. The first is that some version of Judaism apparently now reemerged as an important feature of Jewish life, and the second is that Jewish religious life was organized in local, partly autonomous , and self-enclosed communities, as has just been suggested. The synagogue remains also introduce us to the beginnings of a dynamic, novel, and distinctive religious culture. They provide evidence of the development of a specifically Jewish iconography and art, which in turn are obliquely and complicatedly related to a renewed literary culture, whose remains include the Palestinian Talmud, the Midrash collections, the massive quantities of innovative liturgical poetry produced in the sixth century and following, called piyyut, a magical/cosmological literature including the Hekhalot books, the Sefer Yezirah, and the Sefer HaRazim, as well as the beginnings of a medieval-style halakhic literature. I have been careful not to write of a late antique Jewish society because the Jews in late antiquity (unlike in the later Second Temple period) were fragmented politically, socially, and economically. Though loosely bound together by a complex and varied religious ideology, they lacked any sort of institutional centralization, especially after the end of the patriarchate, around 425. This ideology may have come to provide Jewish life everywhere with a certain sameness, just as it did in the Middle Ages. Even in northern Palestine, where there was a concentrated Jewish population, routine social and economic relations may not have been marked as Jewish, and there may have been no way of excluding Christians and pagans from the networks created by such interactions. Alternatively, such networks as existed may...